What is Chemistry?

Today I stopped by Jennifer’s Random Musings, where she was discussing Just the Sexiest Man Alive as her January Book of the Month.  One of Jennifer’s comments was that the book reminded her of some of her favorite romantic comedy films, which was interesting because Just the Sexiest Man Alive was originally written as a screenplay.  (Although, back then, it was called “The Andrews Project.”)  As I mentioned on Jennifer’s Blog, although the screenplay was optioned by a big Hollywood producer, the film ultimately wasn’t made.  After that, my film agent suggested I turn the script into a book, saying that he thought the story wasn’t over, that it should have a “home” somewhere, even if that home wasn’t on the big screen.  I’m so grateful he made that suggestion, and that Taylor and Jason’s story has been so warmly received as a contemporary romance.

But Jennifer’s blog got me thinking… as much as I love romantic comedy films (that’s what drove me to write two rom/com screenplays) I often find myself somewhat… disappointed with them.  And my main complaint seems to be that there’s no “chemistry” between the female and male leads.  Which leads me to wonder:

What is “chemistry”?

For me, there has to be that initial spark.  And  I’ll admit it, I love it when, for whatever reason, the hero and heroine refuse to accept the depth of that initial spark.   I’m also a sucker for banter.  Why do I love a back and forth between the heroine and hero?  Because to me, it signifies that they “get” each other.  And that they see each other as equals.   More important than what’s being said, often, is what’s being said between the lines.  Plus, let’s be honest: banter is foreplay.  And the more heated banter, the hotter I think the couple is going to be in bed.

So that’s my two cents.  What’s yours?  What do you think chemistry is?

9 thoughts on “What is Chemistry?

  1. Jennifer Y says:

    Hi Julie! And it’s funny that the book started as screenplay…I had no clue when I wrote my discussion post, but like I said, I could easily see it as a film and I really enjoyed that about it…it just flowed and I became lost in the story as I do when I watch films.

    And I understand what you mean about rom/com films and chemistry between the leads. I am not sure how I would define chemistry but agree that there has to be some kind of spark between the characters. And I absolutely LOVE banter between the characters…I, too, am a sucker for banter (in films and in books) for the reasons you mention. It makes it easier to root for the couple and you can’t help but anticipate the moment when the two finally come together.

    I do think that a lot of the chemistry in rom/com films has to come from the actors and actresses. You can have a great story full of witty banter and romance, but if I can’t sense chemistry between the lead actor and actress, then I am less likely to get lost in the romance of the story.

    Now this is just my opinion, but one of my fave rom/com films involves quite a bit of banter between the leads…Two Weeks Notice with Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock. I loved the back-and-forth relationship and banter these two have even though they aren’t initially romantically involved. I felt the characters had quite a bit of chemistry because of how the actors portrayed them. Yet Hugh Grant was in another rom/com with Drew Barrymore (Music & Lyrics) that was a good film, but I felt they lacked some kind of spark…I couldn’t buy their relationship…I don’t necessarily feel it was the writing or the story itself, but something just felt kind of off to me. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

    Sorry…I kind of rambled there.

  2. Kati says:

    Hi Julie! This is a terrific question, and one I’ve pondered once or twice on my blog as well.

    My favorite example of chemistry in the movies is Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney in Out of Sight. Wow is that movie hot! Remember the scene where they’re both in the trunk of the car? He’s barely touching her, and yet the tension between them in palpable.

    For me: Tension = Chemistry.

    When I pick up a Linda Howard book, I’m assured that at some point during the book, I’m going to be mentally screaming “JUST DO IT ALREADY!” because the tension between the leads is so tremendous. There’s this terrific scene in Dream Man where the leads are already sleeping together, but they go for a car ride just as a sultry summer storm is building, and the heroine starts teasing the hero a bit while he’s driving. The tension is *dripping* from the page as he tries to get them safely home while she tortures him in the car. The love scene afterward is incendiary!

    Lots of characters have great chemistry, but occasionally an author won’t know quite what to do with it. That can be frustrating. But in the hands of a gifted author, chemistry is what completely makes the book for me.

  3. Julie says:

    Jennifer and Kati: those are perfect examples of when something works and when it doesn’t. Jennifer– I’m in total agreement with your thoughts on Two Weeks Notice and Music & Lyrics… and then, of course, there’s Four Weddings and a Funeral, where I just loved Hugh Grant.

    Kati: LOVE that you mentioned Out of Sight. Every time someone tries tells me that Jennifer Lopez hasn’t made a decent movie, Out of Sight is my first response. She and George are fantastic together. What’s also funny is that (and I probably shouldn’t admit this) I’ve only read one Linda Howard book, and it was Dream Man. And I very clearly remember that exact scene you’ve described– the sexual tension was great.

    I’m thinking here of some of the rom/coms I’ve liked…: Ever After with Drew Barrymore (I know it’s kind of cheesy, but still), Bridget Jones’ Diary, and while it’s not one of my favorites, the most recent one I saw and enjoyed was Maid of Honor with Patrick Dempsey. In each of those, the heroine tells the hero off/doesn’t like him during their initial encounter. I think I see a pattern here… ; )

  4. Stacy ~ says:

    I think chemistry is this undeniable fascination with another person, whether you like them or not. It’s like this buzz of energy you can’t ignore, and it draws you to that person almost against your will. It’s obviously more fun to watch when the characters despise each other.

    Kati mentioned Linda Howard, and I inevitably think of Sam & Jaine from “Mr. Perfect” and their chemistry. Again, they can’t stand each other, at first, but eventually those sparks turn into something really hot and sexy between them, and they can barely keep their hands off each other. Now that’s chemistry.

  5. Elyssa Papa says:

    Hi, Julie! I love the new blog design and JUST THE SEXIEST MAN ALIVE. I love Rom Coms, but they’re so far and few that are actually really good because of the lack of chemistry between the two co-stars. I think about the screwball comedies from the 1930s with the quick banter and the sexual tension that seethed beneath the surface. One of my faves is It Happened One Night—Colbert and Gable were so quick on the back and forth, and they definitely had that ellusive chemistry between them.

    One of my more favorite Rom Coms is Love Actually, especially the scene between Colin Firth and Amelie where he’s typing away in the cottage, and they’re both conversing each other in different languages but don’t understand what the other is saying. Despite the language barrier, it is one of the funniest scenes in the movie, and those two had palpable sexual tension.

    I love the excerpt for your newest book, and the back and forth between the two. I think that’s what I miss most about present day Rom Coms, the banter doesn’t seem as legit, or even there.

  6. Liz V. says:

    I’d have to say the best example of chemistry for me is Heath and Annabelle in SEP’s Match Me If You Can.

    Love the idea of banter being foreplay!! I realized that the books I’ve enjoyed the most have that dry wit banter with nothing sexual ever even being mentioned. It’s the anticipation.

  7. Rowena says:

    What a great post! I’d have to agree with Stacy. The chemistry between Jaine and Sam was perfect. They couldn’t stand each other but they couldn’t stay away from each other either. There’s that sizzle in the air around them that draws them toward each other and it’s so much fun to see them get together.

    I’m also a fan of the witty banter chemistry. I see this a lot and love it a lot in the British romantic comedies. There’s those wits being thrown back and forth between the hero and the heroine and you can’t help but be anxious for them to finally get together..that anticipation is the best!

  8. Julie says:

    Elyssa: it’s like we’re rom/com soulmates! : ) This is so bizarre, you mentioning “It Happened One Night,” because just last week I put a scene in the current book I’m writing that is an homage to that very film. It’s absolutely one of my favorite b&w rom/coms. So much chemistry between Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. And, yes, the story line with Colin Firth is my favorite in Love Actually– and what’s really amazing is that we get so behind the couple even despite the relatively compressed screen time they get, with the film balancing about six different stories. I suspect casting Colin Firth has something to do with why it works so well… ; )

    Liz and Rowena: thanks so much for dropping by!! I haven’t read either Match Me If You Can or Mr. Perfect, so I’m going to have to check both of those out.

  9. Liz V. says:

    GASP! Julie, you’ve never read MMIYC or Mr. Perfect?! Not to be pushy, but hurry up and get those books, they are fabulous.

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